I am meeting one of my heroes and I’ve been sending childish, boasting texts to my oldest friends all day. I’m meeting the man who created American Psycho — the book millions of us felt was a private, very male joke, only we were smart enough to appreciate. Finally I’m admitted to his hotel room. Here I am sitting opposite Bret Easton Ellis. He looks healthy, lively and very welcoming — in answer to the question in your head, nothing like Patrick Bateman. I sit opposite him, grinning, before I get a grip, ask some questions and we spend the next hour LAUGHING TOGETHER LIKE MATES. You getting this John, Andy, Ed, Jake...? ARE YOU?
How does it feel to be in an amazing suite at Claridge’s, being interviewed about your new book (Imperial Bedrooms)? Still exciting?
It’s nice — it feels glamorous but is the glamour exciting any more? Not really. It seems a bit of a job; part of the process after the book is done.
You’re accustomed to the attention now, but when Less Than Zero came out you exploded on to the literary scene…
It came out in May ’85 and it didn’t become a bestseller until that October, so what people thought was, “Let’s take this young, presentable and — at the time — good-looking author and turn him into a literary sensation.” That absolutely wasn’t what happened. There was no explosion. The explosion for me was when they told me they were going to publish the book and I received that call on a payphone in my college dorm (aged 21). The second book (The Rules Of Attraction - 1987) was where the scrutiny began.
But your success at such an early age must have been odd…
With the second book and the movie of Less Than Zero coming out (in 1987), that’s when I felt it big time and thought maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
But that’s a dream for a lot of people.
The reason it wasn’t was because I was so young. I was writing and thought, “One day I will write a novel and have it published,” but I was also in bands and that was really, really fun. The band didn’t take off.
What did you play in the band?
In that band I was on keyboards. It was the Eighties.
I would never have played a strap-on keyboard. During that year it hit me that Bret Easton Ellis had become a brand. The real Bret Easton Ellis isn’t that guy. I’m not that decadent, my family isn’t that rich, I don’t do the sh*t that’s in the book — I’m more laid-back and funnier, but this Dark Prince Of Decadence is what I’m known for and what I’ll always been known for. People still stay I had one of those ‘Brett Easton Ellis’ nights.
Who isn’t slightly Patrick Bateman on a big night?
Ah, Patrick Bateman c’est moi.
That book is intensely autobiographical. I remember the pain and loneliness that I felt when I wrote it. I was 23, I moved to New York, I had some money. I was living a decadent lifestyle and it was not filling my voids. I was falling into what was then yuppie-dom but was, in fact, the consumer lifestyle. My lifestyle was like Patrick Bateman’s and American Psycho was my way of not falling into that. It’s a novel, so I made him more dramatic and crazier than I am, but I agree with a lot of what Patrick Bateman says about society and I thought he was kind of funny. I really identify with his rage. Regarding the murders, I was always on the fence about whether they were fantasy or real. I don’t know and I prefer it that way.
Do you still meet people for whom you are the demonised author of American Psycho?
Much less now. What was instructive when it came out was that all the controversy was before publication as once people had read it they saw that it wasn’t what it was painted to be — a mountain of misogynistic violence for 400 pages. It was about 12 pages of violence and the rest a social satire about a young man who was losing his sanity, which I was.
I’ve noticed older women still don’t like the book.
Older women do not like my work. But many young women do. I had a shocking example in Manhattan when I did a reading — a lot of people showed up. I’m the oldest person in the room, there was this girl there, 23, 24, and she had two copies of American Psycho and she leaned in as I was signing and whispered, “This is the book that taught me how to masturbate.” So I have a very wide audience.
Were there books or films that influenced the humour in Psycho?
No, there was a person and I dedicated the book to him. He’s called Bruce Taylor. I met him when I was 11 or 12 and he was funniest person I ever met, with the sickest sense of humour. He’s my best friend. He taught me a lot about what is funny and what’s dark and how you can never go too far. When I created Patrick Bateman, I channelled a lot of Bruce; he begged me not to dedicate the book to him, as he thought it would ruin his career. Now it gets him laid. There were moments in the book that were harrowing to write about and I’m thinking of Genesis… and the mutilation of women, but I found listening to Genesis more harrowing. I was not a big Genesis fan but I was figuring out who Patrick would like and felt he’d be part of the Genesis audience. Do you know how many times I listened to Tonight, Tonight, Tonight?
What are you listening to now?
The National. Also, a band called The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, The xx and I really like country music…
I know. My favourite song of last year was The Climb by Miley Cyrus. It’s an awesome song.
What do think about looking older?
I live in the most ageist city in the world. Men have to be very careful about doing stuff to themselves — what’s that site called… ‘Middle Aged Celebrities Who Look Like Lesbians’. I Google myself a lot, I admit that.
When was your last self-Google?
Five days ago. I read the comment boards — it’s the most ego-deflating thing and I think it’s good for you. People say horrible things about your appearance: “What are those shoes?” I hate buying clothes. I have one nice suit, low-end Hugo Boss that I have to wear if I’m going to an event.
Finally, are you now a non-drinking LA puritan?
I’m into some pretty exotic rare tequila. Never shots, they give you a hangover. If you have really good tequila and sip it, don’t chug it, you’ll get more of a buzz and you’re not drinking 100 calories of sugary wine. This is the most valuable thing I learned in LA.
Imperial Bedrooms is out now, priced £16.99 (Picador)
Words: Phil Hilton
Pictures: Rex Features